Whether it’s a chance encounter between a filmmaker and a potential mentor or a festival-goer discovering a film, Indie Gems Film Festival is all about giving independent film a space to thrive.
"One part art, one part business mixed with two parts party," is how director of Indie Gems Film Festival, John L. Simpson, describes his festival which is returning to Parramatta Riverside Theatres - over 26th to 29th July - for its third year.
Simpson was motivated to found the festival due to his - and many others' - lament over the bevy of quality independent film productions that struggle to find screen space in local cinemas dominated by blockbusters and quick turn-around. "Independent films are great but rarely seen in Sydney's West and we recognised a need," Simpson says simply. "Previously we only screened Australian films but this year we decided that indie films are part of a global family so we opened up our programming to international filmmakers."
Indeed, this year's programme is packed with a diverse selection of both local and international works and the eclecticism of this year's line-up is amply evident in the Opening Night event, which showcases a handful of edgy shorts from around the world. Highlights of these include Colin Levy's epic fantasy short Sintel (pictured); Dean Daley Jones' deeply moving Walk Tall, Stand Strong; and David Choi's musical video Facebook Screwed My Life.
The Opening Night screening will also be followed by a networking event designed for indie filmmakers to meet other like-minded creative types, as well as key industry decision makers. "Last year director John Winter met Ravi Kambhoj at Indie Gems and as a result his film Black & White & Sex was programmed at the Ladakh film festival, the highest in altitude festival in the world," Simpson recalls. "John was invited as a special guest, so he was literally on top of the world...so get off the couch and make it happen!"
The programme's features include Piotr Uzarowicz's moving documentary from the US, The Officer's Wife, about the collision of truth, justice and memory in a family tragedy; while Aussie features include Dee McLachlan's topical and sharply funny 10 Terrorists about a producer who kicks off a controversial reality television show to bump up the ratings; and Owen Elliot's Bathing Franky, which chronicles a troubled young man whose chance encounter with a wild, older man changes his world.
Other Aussie features include Jeremy Stanford's The Sunset Six, which captures the point that the rock ‘n' roll dream turns into a bit of a nightmare; while Simon Barker's spooky thriller, Bedlam, chronicles a young man with a disturbing family history of mental illness who checks himself into the Bedlam psychiatric hospital.
As well as the films, the festival will also hold an "Indie Film Production & Distribution Forum" for those who believe they have their first feature ready, but not the funds. It will be led by festival director, innovative producer and Titan View's CEO, John L. Simpson, who takes participants through financing, budgeting and getting it in front of those all-important eyeballs. Other panellists include Dee McLachlan (The Jammed, 10 Terrorists), Ahmed Salama (marketing guru of The Tunnel and The Combination) and Ian Astridge (low-budget production expert).
It's events like these - and the chance, opportune meetings that can derive from them - which are in many ways the driver behind this festival. "Mentor relationships often happen quite organically after a chance meeting," Simpson relays. "We know from previous years filmmakers have pursued contacts they have met here with great success."
And noting the importance of these mentor relationships, this year Indie Gems is shining the spotlight back on Australian mentors with the inaugural Mentor of the Year Award - an opportunity for mentees to publically recognise those that have aided them. "A mentor can be the guiding light through unknown territory," Simpson says. "Filmmaking is like an elite sport, not for the faint hearted and it can make all the difference to have Yoda by your side."